Thursday, May 1, 2008

Monet's Gardens, Russian Symphony and 300Euro Air France Voucher... Oh the adventures of Paris!

To quote Sabrina, “Paris is always a good idea.” I had a wonderful time exploring the city of lights. Normally people think Paris is for lovers, but visiting by yourself can be awesome too!

My plane landed and after getting my luggage and passing customs it was only a short time before I was on a train headed for the Gare du Nord. My urgency would result in one minor incident, that I wouldn’t realize until later that night. Alas, I left my ipod on the plane! I do not have such a good track record with keeping a hold on these little buggers. Here’s the other issue… When I got on the plane I first had to kick someone out of my seat who had the middle seat, but was obviously hoping to have mine. Anyway, then I go to put my bag under my seat and the girl sitting ahead of me has her bag under her seat instead of the seat in front of her. Well, this kind of makes sense because she didn’t have a seat ahead of her. Instead, there was the section divider. Anyway, anyone who has flown their fair share of flights knows that the benefits of not having someone lean their chair back on you is offset by the fact that you have to stow your carry on bag in the overhead bin. Well, I kindly asked her to move it and she wouldn’t. She said she would wait until the cabin crew told her that it was my storage and not hers. At this point I was not so happy, I mean really… So I went and told the cabin crew the problem and they made her move her bag. That was all fine and lovely, but the whole time the guy who had to move from my seat was kind of glaring at me. This situation didn’t improve as to my horror I realized my backpack was too big to fit under the seat! What is one to do? I had officially ticked off both of the people around me and now had to shove my bag into a place that was far too small for it. Let me tell you, things were not looking good. So I try and settle in and reassure myself I did the right thing by making the girl move her bag… It was rightfully my space! Regardless, my ipod ran out of batteries during the flight and since I was half asleep and there was no chance I was getting to my bag again, I left it lying in my lap. That was the last time I remember seeing my dear, sweet, cute blue ipod :( What happened after that is a mystery. Did it fall on the floor and I didn’t see it in cleaning up my area? Did it fall in the crack between the seats? Did my resentful neighbor swipe it from me while I was in the throws of sleep? Did I accidentally wrap it up in the blanket and not see it? The possibilities are endless, but all I know is I should have made sure I had it before I stepped off the plane. It’s a hard lesson to learn, but at least it wasn’t my passport I lost! That would have been catastrophically bad, but I also would have probably figured out sooner that I had left… so… Anyway, I also wonder if losing my ipod was bad karma kicking me in the butt for being the jerk and making the girl move her bag. I could have easily put my bag up overhead, next time, my friend.

I digress, back to the train. I got the station and headed for the Metro. I found my hostel without a problem and was very impressed and pleased with my choice! Check in wasn’t until 2pm and I had arrived about 8:30am. I originally considered venturing out, but then instead opted to grab some of the free breakfast they had out and use their wireless internet to take care of the million and one things I had hanging over my head! I ended up keeping myself busy until at least 3:00pm. I checked into my room, changed into my running clothes and hit the road. I ran along this amazingly scenic canal and around a science amusement park. Very French. After washing up, I struck out for the Pompidou Center. It was about 5:30ish I think, when I left… I planned to walk the two miles or so to get there. That was an awesome idea except for the fact I didn’t have a map and went the wrong way to begin with… I ended up spending an additional forty five minutes walking through town. I managed to find my way by consulting the ever present maps outside of the subway entrances…

I made it to the museum and discovered to my great amazement that Wednesday nights from 6-9 there is free admission for young adults between 18 and 26 years of age! So I saved my seven euros and enjoyed the modern art exhibits even more reveling in my good fortune of getting in for free ;) In case you are curious as to what is special about the Pompidou Center, let me enlighten you. It is known as the inside outside building. All the stairs, escalators, piping, ductwork is all on the outside of the building. It is crazy cool to look at. Very modern art looking, effectively reflecting the essence of the museums contents.

Being close to 9 o’clock I opted to take the metro back. I had to switch lines a couple of times, but made it. I got back to the hostel and ate dinner which consisted of a sweet tuna salad I had picked up on the walk back from the nearest metro stop. I worked online a while again and then called it a night.

Thursday morning I got up and headed right for the Musee D’Orsay. I wanted to get there close to opening time. I succeeded, but was very disappointed to learn that the workers were on strike and only the first floor was open. Well, that certainly would never do, so I determined to return on Saturday and instead go to the Musee Rodin. Rodin was a famous sculptor and the line to get in to see the exhibits was wrapped around the corner! But had no other alternatives, so I waited… It was worth it. I wasn’t a huge fan of sculpture art before and am still not totally won over, but I can definitely appreciate it more. The only bummer of the day was that it was a bit cold and I had worn a skirt and so I was freezing! I went back and had a late lunch/early dinner. I worked on fixing up my pictures from my grad school visits and otherwise wasted time on my computer. When I finally pulled myself away it was about 30 minutes before dusk would set in. I had to snap out of the computer screen daze so I went for a quick run. Just the medicine the doctor ordered! I felt much better afterwards and headed to bed pretty early that night...

Friday was lovely, simply lovely! I ventured out of the Paris city limits to visit Monet’s Gardens in Givery. The train ride was nice. I had left pretty early and so was grateful to rest a bit. You can take a bus from the train station to the gardens, but I decided it would be more fun to walk the 6km instead. On my way I stopped at a grocery store and bought a picnic lunch. The guidebook had warned that there was no picnicking in the gardens and the town wasn’t so friendly to it either, but I didn’t care… tourist food is ridiculously overpriced, so I was willing to gamble. The walk was very peaceful, and I had my camera out taking all sorts of pictures! There was one point where I thought I was lost, but thankfully I wasn’t. I didn’t know how I would find the gardens, but I shouldn’t have worried because once I hit the town limits, there were tons of tourists all over the place. Besides, I learned the village was quite small and so even though I didn’t know exactly where I was going I could wander through the whole thing in very little time at all. I did finally find Monet’s house and Gardens. The gardens were breathtaking. However, the number of tourists did detract a bit, but who am I to talk. I was one adding to the numbers! Monet’s house was interesting. It was fun to imagine this genius of a painter walking around in the same rooms. The rooms by the way were painted these very bright colors. I asked the workers if they were the original colors and they said yes. Of course their have added coats of paint over the years, but the original colors were preserved. I’m talking bright yellows, blues, rose and green. Definitely a painter’s house! I would also like to note that the wooden Japanese bridge in the water lilies garden has been replaced by a replica steel version and they have done nothing to try and disguise the very industrial look now. I have to say, the painting are prettier than the real thing…

After visiting Monet’s crib, if you will, I changed into my running clothes then found a bench and had my picnic lunch. There was not a problem with that and I think that was the one thing the guide book has been wrong about so far. After lunch, I read for a while and then walked to the American Art Museum to see if could leave my bag there while I went running. Sure enough, the guard was sympathetic to my cause and let me use one of the lockers. I got to go running on one the nature paths up through the hills… It was amazing; definitely one of the highlights of the day trip. I kept on thinking I would wake up and all of this would have been some crazy dream. But no, it was all real and I couldn’t get enough of it!

Following my run I picked up my bag and made a quick retreat to the bus to get back to the train station. At the station, I tried to change in the bathroom, but it was a public toilet thing, they have them all over France… it looks like a little kiosk, but you push a button and the door opens and it was all wet on the ground. Not from, well you know, but instead because I would soon find out there were jets of water that spray from the floor to clean everything. I was standing inside trying to figure out how to make this situation work and then all of the sudden the cleaning jets came on and I was like “AHHHHH!!!” Then the panic set in of not knowing how to get out. Luckily I found the button on the inside that opened the door and hastily put that incident behind me. I was a bit shaken up, but the whole thing was hilarious. Foreigners! I caught the train back to Paris and was finally able to change out of my nasty running clothes at the main station where I paid .50Euro to use a restroom that didn’t attack me with jets of water!

The next thing on my agenda was the Salle Pleyel. The Russian National Symphony Orchestra was playing that night and I was going to try and get one of the last minute discount tickets. Well, I showed up a good three hours before the show to find out the procedure. I learned I should come back in an hour and then wait for another two hours in line… I decided to go take a few pictures of the Arc de Triumph, which was down the street, grabbed some food for dinner, and then made my way back to start “queing” as they would say in England. It was a long time to wait, and I was pretty tired. But I read my book a bit and enjoyed talking to a few of the other people in line. I did end up getting a ticket. So for $33 I got to see the Russian National Symphony Orchestra. They were incredible. I actually liked the first and last pieces the best. It was amazing because of the sound was just so clear and precise. I used to think that music was music and there wasn’t a huge difference between performance groups. Boy did that night prove me wrong! I can fully appreciate and discern good classical music now which is very cool. The only thing I was not so happy about was how tired I was! I had some trouble staying awake and so that made it a bit difficult at times, but none the less I wouldn’t have done it differently. You only have a chance to hear the best of Russian musicians perform in Paris once…

After the performance, I walked down to see the Arc de Triumph at night. It was lightly misting which just added to effect of awesomeness. From there, it was about 10:30pm, I hopped on the metro and went back to my hostel. It was a loooong day!

Saturday, I woke up and repeated the beginning of the day on Thursday, where I headed to the Musee D’Orsay. This time I did actually get to go in. The museum was cool, but since I hadn’t gotten to bed very early the night before and since I woke up early to get to the museum before the crowd, I was hurting. I kind of wish I had just slept in and muscled through all the tourists later on in the day… Each day of traveling you learn something new. I wasn’t too impressed with the collection at the museum. They were supposed to have this huge impressionist section and it was kind of weak if you ask me. It could have been because I was so tired and was always looking for those benches in the middle to sit down and rest. It also could have been the fact that even though I was there early, there were still a ton of people milling around which is super annoying. But again, I was adding to the numbers so I can’t complain.

After the so-so museum experience I decided to take the metro to La Defense, which is the modern business district. It was super cool; very futuristic. They also have this larger than life modern art rendition of an arch which is absolutely HUGE! Mind blowing really. There is a whole pedestrian mall area that is in the center of all the business buildings. There are no cars around and so it is really trippy in that way. It makes me think of iRobot, or that 5th Element movie. I tried to mail the postcards I had written out, but the post office closed a half hour before I got there. Bummer! Instead I found a grocery store, grabbed a cheap lunch, picked up snack for my bible study girls and a bottle of wine to bring back as a gift for Susan. I ate my lunch under the looming shadows of the arch. I also saw two girls eating Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and drinking Star Bucks. I was totally looking forward to some ice cream so I decided to ask them where they bought it. I wasn’t sure if they were French or American. There were so many Americans in Paris it was kind of ridiculous. I think I overheard more English being spoken than French! Anyway, I politely went up and asked them in French if they speak French or English. They looked at me like I had three heads and said English was okay… But they were clearly French so I asked them in French where they got their ice cream. They pointed me in the direction of the mall entrance and I thanked them. But MY GOODNESS! What effrontery… when I simply inquired about the ice cream! I mean really is that degree of standoff-ishness really necessary. (Roll my eyes…)

Anyway, I succeeded in procuring my ice cream. Unlike the US you cannot taste the flavor before you order and I got the brownie cheesecake which was less than stellar, but I still tried to enjoy it! Following my time at La Defense, I got back on the metro and journeyed back to my hostel. phew! I got back and decided to nap, and then run… And then head over to Montmatre for the free tour. It was a crazy plan, but it worked! The nap was refreshing, short, but much needed. The run was nice and to the point. I took the metro to Montmatre and found the free tour group. The young woman leading the tour was great. She was in theater school and so, as you can imagine, very animated. P.S. The tour was in English. It was technically free, but the convention is to give a tip at the end. I did tip her, but I was really close to not having enough money left so I didn’t give her as much as I would have liked. I also really wanted to buy one of the fake Pashmina scarves, but I refrained which was good because the place I went to dinner didn’t take credit cards and so I would have been way up the creek without a paddle. For dinner I went to an amazing place that serves salads with hot fried potatoes on top. It is truly a salad of the Gods. I refer you to this lovely blog page which corroborates my opinion of this fine gastronomic establishment. (Scroll down about three-fourths of the way... look for the name Le Relais Gascon, the name of the restaurant.) I actually got a table for one and sat and ate my salad alone. It was one of those landmark experiences: Going out to eat by yourself. It is not something I would like to do frequently, but I am glad it is not something beyond my abilities.

I should have gone back at this point, but the draw to see Paris from the Sacre Couer way up on the mountain was too strong. So, I steeled myself up for the many hundreds steps to climb and was duly rewarded by an amazing panorama of Paris at night. The Eiffel Tower was lit up and there was an impromptu band playing on the steps entraining a large crowd of tourists, poised to bring in a large income of tips judging by the excitement and size of the crowd they had drawn. After taking in the sights I descended the stairs and rode the metro back to my hostel. When I got back I repacked all my stuff. I would have to leave very early the next morning to get to the airport. Everything was ready and I climbed into bed. Terribly tired and yet so happy with my four day Paris adventure. I would do it again in a heart beat! I would also like to mention that I finished reading the Biomimicry book I had started a while back… It was very fascinating, but the middle was really slow going. After finishing that book I commenced reading Lolita. Talk about a whacked out book! The guy who founded the Oxford fellowship was the first to publish Lolita through his printing business a long time ago. I figured that since I would be meeting this guy, maybe I should read the incredibly controversial book he published.

Sunday morning I got up and went to a short run. I knew I would be sitting all day and didn’t want to feel like a slug. After I showered and got ready to go, I brought my bags downstairs. I didn’t have enough money left for the train to the airport, so I left my bags with the receptionist and went to the ATM down the road which was kind enough to work with my foreign ATM card. This is something I was having a big issue with. Anyway, I was overcome with dread when the machine wouldn’t work. I tried the next one down the street and had the same problem. What is one to do! So I went back, grabbed my bags, I was running late at this point, and took the metro to the main station. I figured something has to work out. Well, transferring from the Metro to the airport line there was no where to buy a ticket… So I got on, there was another girl from the hostel with me, and we rode to the airport. No problems. I got to the end of the line where I was to get off and thought to myself, what providence that I didn’t have to pay. Except that I took the escalator up to the exit and wha-bam there were the turnstiles to exit and surprise surprise you needed a ticket… I looked around and there were no ticket machines in sight, and no employees either for that matter. I am not going to write anything incriminating, so I will leave my next actions to your imagination. Let’s just say I was not the only one in my position and some of the turnstiles seemed to be malfunctioning. Regardless, I made it to the ticket counter in plenty of time ;)

As I was waiting in line to check in, an Air France employee asks me very slyly if I would like to make some money. First off, it kind of creped me out. If it wasn’t an airline employee I would have probably been inclined to walk the other way at a very determined pace. But then I realized they were probably looking for volunteers to take a later flight and they would be compensated. So I got past the initial odd comment and found out my hunch was correct. And well, since I didn’t have anything especially pressing to get back for I took them up on the offer and earned a 300Euro voucher and had my own nice hotel room and nice meals taken care of for the next day. I also spent another hour trying to track down my ipod, but it was to no avail. Unfortunately, I think it is lost for good. At least I hope someone is enjoying it! (Okay, so I have lost two ipod shuffles, isn’t about time I FOUND one…)

The little extension to my trip was great. The only two major downsides were that the hotel did not have free wireless and the woman working at the desk of the hotel was unnecessarily mean. She was so jerky about the internet stuff and unhelpful with the telephone. I went to the hotel next door to use the phone card I had received and was able to contact Leanna to let her know the change in plans. To add insult to injury both of the neighboring hotels had free wireless. I was ticked. The good thing was the lack of distractions. I was able to get down to business and write my Weidenfeld Fellowship Motivational Statement. I was super worried I would get back to Burkina and not be able to focus on it. Well, problem solved. I also watched iRobot, inspired by my visit to La Defense. It was great. I was able to go running the next day and enjoyed a great lunch the first day of amazing potato soup and a hamburger. What’s not to love.

Monday I headed to the airport for take two of traveling back to Burkina. I had to wait a long time in line to check in my bags and ended up having to scarf down my last free lunch. Instead of being sensible and getting a sandwich on the go or something I went to a sit down place and ordered something for real. Bad choice. I was so anxious the whole time and ate my food so fast I got heartburn. Again, another lesson learned. The only thing that made it worth it was the ice cream dessert that was covered in whipped cream. But again I had to eat it in like t-minus 3 minutes so not quite as enjoyable as one would have hoped. After my lunch fiasco I high tailed it to my gate, but realized I had forgotten I had to wait through the customs and security lines again. Grrr… I was getting pretty nervous now. I hate Charles de Gaulle Airport. I constantly feel like I am going to miss my flights! Anyway, I made it though and took the tram; yes I had to take a TRAM, to my gate. I was so relieved to be on board that plane. The flight was uneventful and since I had already lost my ipod I didn’t have to worry about losing it twice… I did manage to keep all my important documents with me which is saying something.

Leanna and Ben picked me up from the airport. It was so great to see them both again! Being back in Burkina for the next three days felt very weird, mainly because I knew I would be leaving again very soon. Back at my house, I was able to give Leanna the stuff I brought back for her. Susan also stopped by to say Hi which was nice :)

I went to sleep that night happy to be back in my own bed. But to be honest not all that stoked to be back in Burkina Faso. Hopefully, that would change.